Jews Protest : Ex-GIs to Meet SS Troops Anew--in a Reunion
Despite protests by Jewish organizations, veterans of an American World War II infantry division intend to meet next week in Germany with German Waffen SS soldiers they once battled, organizers of the 50-member tour group said Monday.
Members of the 70th Infantry Division have met with Waffen SS veterans every two years since 1977, and will do so again this year, said Floyd Freeman, 60, a South Gate travel agent who is a veteran of the division and has organized the tour.
The German veterans had originally been expected to participate in a memorial service at the American cemetery in St. Avold, France, but that invitation was withdrawn in response to protests from mayors of nearby French towns and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Delyle Omholt, president of the 70th Division Assn., said Monday in a telephone interview from Iola, Wis.
Visit Still On
But the American veterans still expect to go to a reunion with Waffen SS veterans from the 6th Mountain Division in Bad Windsheim, Germany, “at which we sit around the table and drink their beer, and hopefully have a good time,” Omholt, 71, said.
In the past, veterans from the two sides have exchanged visits to memorial services at their respective cemeteries, Omholt said. The Americans will probably still be invited to the German service this year, and it will be up to individuals whether they wish to attend, he said.
“We have met them and find them to be human beings,” Omholt said. “We think that some of the events of World War II can be put into the past.”
Freeman said his understanding is that while atrocities were committed by members of another branch of the SS, the Waffen SS members faced by his division were ordinary soldiers.
“These guys were the fighting SS, not the atrocity SS,” Freeman said.
But Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has called the proposed visit “an outrage.”
And Neil Sandberg, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee, said Monday that the Waffen SS “included large numbers of people who ran the Nazi concentration camps where millions of Jews and others were gassed and cremated.”
“There are serious concerns right now about any attempt to achieve reconciliation with this hated group,” Sandberg said. “The Waffen SS were among the most notorious Nazi groups in World War II. I would think that the American veterans would have better sense than to try to get together with those who massacred American prisoners of war and killed so many people during World War II.”
Any attempt at reconciliation, Sandberg said, “is a grievous offense to the memory of those who died in that conflict.”
Freeman and Omholt, however, both said that after the American veterans first made contact with their former Waffen SS enemies in the mid-1970s, they asked the U.S. government to determine whether the soldiers they had faced had been involved in any atrocities.
“Our government came back and gave them a clean record,” Freeman said.
Most members of the association, Freeman said, “think it’s just wonderful that former enemies can now be friends.”